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Five Environmental Injustices We Cannot Ignore this Earth Day



Sea levels rise, toxic fumes engulf cities and clean water becomes less and less accessible. These conditions are the realities of communities across the nation. As climate change continues to take its toll on the environment, marginalized communities are left in the dark to face the brunt of environmental disasters.

Oil and gas facilities exist within a half-mile to more than one million African Americans, according to a study conducted by the NAACP, Clean Air Task Force, and National Medical Association. As a result, African Americans are at substantially higher risk of cancer and asthma.

Environmental injustice is an issue we cannot ignore this Earth Day. The first step is identifying the areas of concern. Here is a list of five communities of color that are victims of environmental injustice:



Coastal erosion is an environmental issue that is wiping out land the size of a football field every hour in Louisiana. The depletion of coastal wetlands has led to a rise in sea levels and a weakened buffer against high storm surges.

Still scarred by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans remains at high risk for coastal storms. This risk lies heavier on communities of color, such as the Lower Ninth Ward, lacking equity and power. The Lower Ninth was the last community to be pumped dry and restored in electricity and water after the hurricane. Vacant lots still remain, as only 37 percent of the neighborhood was able to return post-Katrina. Inequity is an injustice.



Detroit, a city with a long history of segregation, is plagued by high levels of air pollution. Detroit is the tenth worst city in America for pollution-related asthma attacks among Black children, according to the NAACP study.

An oil refinery resides in the backyards of residents in southwest Detroit, with a majority-Hispanic demographic. The air is toxic and so is the water.  Like the nearby city of Flint, Detroit's water is contaminated with lead. Lead-poisoning among Detroit children is on the rise, with rates that surpass those of Flint. Health deprivation is an injustice.



Environmental barriers divide cities like D.C. The west and east sides of D.C., divided by the Anacostia River, are very different, in terms of resources and environmental issues. The Anacostia has been a site for illegal waste dumping, and remnants of toxic chemicals remain in the river, according to a 2016 D.C. Department of Energy and Environment study.

Southeast D.C. is structurally isolated and filled with food deserts. Approximately 11 percent of D.C.'s total area is made up of food deserts, The D.C. Policy Center found. They are concentrated in low-income neighborhoods, isolated from the wealthier communities across the river. Inequity is an injustice.


Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash


Bridging the border between North and South Dakota, Standing Rock is a native reservation of the Sioux Tribe. The reservation's sacred burial grounds and clean water are being threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline. Oil leaks contaminate water sources. This remains an ongoing struggle since the executive decision in 2017. The amount of spills continues to rise, Despite the implementation of a leak detection system, oil leaks up to 12,000 barrels could go undetected on a daily basis. Infringement is an injustice.


Photo by Pennsylvania National Guard via Flickr


Nearly six months after Hurricane Maria, neighborhoods throughout Puerto Rico are still left without relief. Nearly 15 percent of the population remains without electricity and 12 percent of the west side of the island lacks access to water, according to data from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at the City Unversity of New York-Hunter. The death toll continues to rise and over 100,000 residents remain relocated from their homes. The delayed disaster relief remains an issue of environmental injustice. Denial is an injustice.

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